This case study describes how we moved the Sports, Exercise and Fitness module to blended learning, with a particular focus on how we designed the online element – and why.
About the module: learning outcomes and wider aims
The Level 4 Sports, Exercise and Fitness module is taught across a number of Programmes in Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences (SERS). The module provides new students with an exciting, active, engaging and social introduction to learning at CCCU.
Students are introduced to the science behind sports performance in an applied, practical way, in our state-of-the-art SportsLab. In the SportsLab, our students experience the real-life application of sport and exercise science. This creates a direct link to their future employment from the very start of the Programme, which is highly engaging. We also find that participating in SportsLab activities builds a strong learning community. We believe that these factors contribute to our above-benchmark levels of attainment, satisfaction, continuity and retention.
Moving to Blended Learning
In Semester 1 2020, the module moved to Blended Learning, as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Social distancing and cleaning requirements have reduced capacity in the SportsLab dramatically. This means that students on this module have one hour per week in the Labs, but this is in smaller groups, meaning increased repeat teaching. The remaining hours are now delivered online.
We faced the challenge of designing a blended learning experience that not only meets the module learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and understanding, but which also meets the wider aims of the module, detailed above. We need to ensure that our students’ introduction to their Programme remains an exciting, active, engaging, social experience.
This is reinforced by the particular needs of the 2020-21 cohort. Through frequent discussions with prospective students during lockdown, we became acutely aware of the negative impact of the disruption to the end of school/college on our new starters – and, importantly, how this could affect their transition into higher education. We had to make the module a fantastic experience, to re-engage students with learning, re-enthuse them about their subject and support them by ensuring a social aspect, too.
We already knew how to do this in the SportsLab, but achieving this online has been a new experience for us.
Designing the online element
Perhaps the most important decision that we made was that we would not to try to reproduce our pre-lockdown, offline learning and teaching approach online. Instead, we started with a ‘blank sheet’, redesigning our approach to meet our core aims. We decided to see our offline and online teaching as an integrated whole, rather than as separate entities. This enabled us to focus on the core aims, selecting the teaching approach that would best meet each aim, rather than vice versa.
Our face to face teaching, in the SportsLab, focuses on being active, practical and social, developing skills and learning community. Our online teaching focuses on developing knowledge and understanding, using practical examples from the real world to enthuse and peer learning to engage.
Student feedback, via our mid-module evaluation, suggests that this approach has been hugely successful.
We have learnt that by sticking to three rules for our online teaching – keeping it ‘simple, structured and varied’ – our students can have a great blended learning experience.
Here are our top tips for creating a positive blended learning experience.
(1) Online learning must be simple for students to follow.
- Include a welcome video, giving an overview of the module content, how it will be taught and why, plus how students can find help, if they need it. We talked through the practical aspects of both face to face and online learning, so that students know exactly what to expect, from walking students around Blackboard, to describing the walking route to the SportsLab!
- Label folders and documents consistently, so it is easy for students to engage in their studies.
- Ensure that your Blackboard contains only the minimum amount of information that students need, time-phasing announcements and releasing content one week at a time. This ensures that our students can focus on what they need to do – and stops students from being distracted or overwhelmed.
- Use the ‘Mark it Reviewed’ function. Our student feedback tells us that they love this, because they can see their progress and because it introduces an element of gamification, too.
(2) Online learning must be consistently structured, to ensure that students can see a clear learning journey.
- Maintain the same structure for every online session so that students know what to expect. Our students have told us that the simple and consistent structure of our VLE directly enables their engagement and their learning.
- In Figure 1, below, we have annotated screenshots of our Blackboard with feedback from our students, to show what has worked for our students – and why.
(3) Online learning should include a wide variety of tasks, to keep students engaged.
- Variety in online learning has been key to student engagement. This ensures that students don’t have a chance to be bored online; and that they are constantly challenged. However, variety brings challenges! Using the full range of online learning tools available in the CCCU learning platform suite has been a steep learning curve for us and our students.
- We have relied heavily upon support from CCCU’s Digital Academic Developers, regularly dropping in to their daily lunchtime surgeries for ideas, as well as instruction on how to use the tools. They have been fantastic – get in touch!
- Feedback from our students tells us that increasing variety has increased the accessibility of learning, because it meets the needs of a wider range of learning styles. However, there is the risk of decreasing accessibility if students do not know how to use the tool. We are careful to teach students how to use each tool, before they are expected to use it, by recording explanatory videos and/or linking to pre-existing videos, as well as writing or linking to how-to guides. Most important for us has been to teach our students how to use Blackboard. We have recorded video introductions, giving students a tour of Blackboard, which students have told us have been invaluable.
- Learning to use the tool must be included in students’ learning time. We have been careful to ensure that learning is inclusive and in line with the CCCU Principles for Blended Learning.
For more information on Blended Learning within the Sports, Exercise and Fitness module, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com. For more information on L&T in the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Social Sciences, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.